In 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded a song called “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”, in which a little white kid gets schooled in the art of the blues by an old black guy who plays for change down at the corner store. “He looked to be 60, and maybe I was 10,” sings Ronnie Van Zant in his fictional ditty about “the finest picker to ever play the blues”.
Tyler Bryant has never heard “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”, which isn’t too surprising, since it came out 17 years before he was born. But the tune does have an interesting correlation to his own life, because when Bryant was 11 he experienced his own “Curtis Loew moment” when he came across 63-year-old bluesman Roosevelt Twitty at a music store in Paris, Texas.
“I was obsessed with music as soon as I heard him play,” recalls Bryant, now 21, calling from Oxford, Mississippi. “I had a dirt bike, so I sold it and bought an electric guitar. I just started going over to his house, where he’d teach me stuff on the guitar.”
Those private lessons paid off well because, four years after meeting Twitty, Bryant won the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation’s New Generation Award, which recognizes aspiring young guitarists. The year after that, Eric Clapton invited the then-16-year-old to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. And in 2009 the makers of Guitar Hero 5 acknowledged his six-string abilities by including his song “Who I Am” in their game.
But the career highlight Bryant seems most proud of these days is being chosen by Jeff Beck as opener for the British guitar legend’s last North American tour.
“It was funny,” notes Bryant, “because he was playing a show in Nashville, and I had sent my booking agent an email, saying, ‘Hey, Jeff Beck’s playing at the Ryman, can you get me a ticket to the show?’ And he wrote back: ‘Sorry, it’s all sold out.’
“But I didn’t know that he had forwarded a video of me playing to Jeff’s agent and manager,” he adds, “and they had sent it on to Jeff. He asked me to come out and do the American tour with him, and after that the Canadian one as well. I had the time of my life on that tour.”
Bryant is currently recording the final tracks for an album to be released this summer, the follow-up to last year’s From the Sandcastle, which was recorded in his basement and was “just sort of something that we threw together for the fans”. He says the material on the new disc is mainly “about being young and having fun”, which—for him, anyway—doesn’t include playing Guitar Hero 5.
“I’m terrible at that game,” he points out. “My friends will be like, ‘Hey, why don’t you play me at your song?’ and they’ll just stomp me. Like, I can’t even play it. It’s pretty weird.”
Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown play the Biltmore Cabaret on Wednesday (March 21).